Sketch (after Goya)

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Sketches / 8
Originally uploaded by anselm23

I went as a chaperone today to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with our Spanish classes. The students were there to see paintings by Spanish masters: Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, and Dali. At each painting, I tried to make a quick sketch of each painting in order to keep it in mind. They only let you bring pencil into the museum with your paper, so I brought my iPad instead. I used a new program called Paper, by 53 (fiftythree.com?) to make this and other sketches in the museum.

I think we do a massive disservice to kids and adults by not teaching students to make visual records of paintings and photographs. We let them do by machine — cameras — what humans used to do by hand.

I worried that doing digital drawings would impair my ability to do handmade drawings, but in fact I find the opposite is true — digital drawing skills transfer to paper and vice versa. A lot of e skill is about knowing what tool one should use: is this an occasion for a pen or a pencil? Should I use a colored pen or a watercolor wash or acrylic paint? (I’m not insane enough to paint with oils. Yet).

But it’s clear that visual literacy, and visual competence, is a critical part of a modern education. Does a kid learn how to use typography to his/her advantage? How about graphic design? Do they use templates, or develop their own themes? Can they record a painting in quick sketches, or must they relying Google Fu to find the correct information?

I got an object lesson in the power of visual images to affect modern kids. We had great trouble reaching the museum this morning, because the kids were walking so slowly from Grand Central Terminal. As I watched them, it became clear that they were moving so slowly because they were utterly overwhelmed by how much advertising bombarded them at every step. Window displays. Posters. Photography. Color. Paintings. Photoshopped displays of hard bodies. Photographs of gleaming wristwatches. None of these kids even WEAR watches, and yet these images conveyed status and power, and thus fascinated them. Enchanted them, literally.

We didn’t start moving quickly until we reached Central Park. Then they started talking to each other, instead of practically drooling at the degree to which their minds had been drained by the advertising barrage.

As Douglas Coupland says, you can learn to program, or be programmed. And advertising, let’s be honest, is programming. Are we going to teach kids to program themselves by words and images? Or let Madison Avenue do it for them?

Some people may object to me posting sketches rather than completed paintings. Yet I see these as demonstrations of developing a range of concomitant skills. Picasso’s drawings show he didn’t leap, fully formed, from the head of the muse, but evolved into cubism from a genuinely realist art education.

What are you doing to train yourself, and your students, to be visually literate and skilled at understanding the visual world around them?

Via Flickr:
Made with Paper

My school took the eighth grade to the Metropolitan Museum to look at works by four Spanish Masters: Goya, Velasquez, El Greco, and Dali. I tried to keep up by doing a quick sketch of each painting. I didn’t always succeed, but I made some interesting efforts. This is one of them.

Day 37: prioritize

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This morning I had to be in New Haven early for a train. I had to make a choice, then, between tai chi and an extra fifteen minutes of snooze time.

I’m pleased to say I chose tai chi. thus are habits made, one slow priority at a time.

Painting: Process or Product?

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I’m not entirely sure how this painting got started, or what I’m going to do with it when it’s completed.  Or if it will be completed, or if it will be abandoned when I move on to the next thing.Phoenix in progress

Here’s the thing: My school has an annual auction to raise money for the school’s annual fund. We the teachers are asked to make contributions of time and energy and product to the auction, and so I volunteered to produce a painting.  Which I’m doing, as you can see on the left.  Only, I’m not sure this is the painting I’m supposed to produce.  And I’m currently debating between starting again, or doing another painting in this series, or leaving well enough alone and giving this one to the auction committee, or continuing to work on this painting… well.  The possibilities are endless.

Except, of course, that they’re not.  The auction day is in about two weeks, and I have to decide pretty soon whether to produce a different painting or keep working on this one. What would you do?  I’m heavily leaning toward trying again. This is an interesting painting, and I learned a lot about process by doing it — work in large layers, work from heaviest strokes to lightest, work with a relatively limited palette, work within color families, and so on.  But even given what it’s supposed to be — a phoenix rising from the ashes of its funeral pyre — it’s not very convincing, is it?  Would you buy it?

There’s a fair degree of overlap between the artist, the magician, and the designer, but relatively little between those three and the student.  The artist, the magician and the designer all work because they love the work.  They enjoy the work, they derive satisfaction from the work, and they enjoy the process which leads them forward whenever they do the work.  The process is important, and it teaches them critical things about how to move forward — just as I’ve learned from this painting, my first in several years.  The student works from outside motivation — getting a good grade usually, or maybe just avoiding punishment.  It’s not to say that outside motivations aren’t good ones, but they won’t lead a designer to produce the next iPad or make an artist into the next Rembrant. It certainly won’t make a magician better at his craft and arte.

I don’t know how one goes about making this sort of ambition intrinsic to students, this internal drive to a) produce work, and b) do the work, and c) make the work better. But I know that without that intrinsic drive, the internal quest to produce quality effort, any attempt to enforce ambition from outside is unlikely to succeed.  You can’t make a person work beyond himself or herself on fairy dust and a B+.